Monday, 14 May 2018

The OS4 Pre-release Preview Part 4: 3.. 2.. 1.. It is done?

Tool time
Not a lot has changed in the Tools department, at first glace, but soon some major new tools are discovered. USBInspector shoes information on the USB hardware connected, in a tree list view, including any hubs as well as the internal one and what USB devices are connected. Device types and any other information the device tells about itself are shown. KeyShow has been updated, now showing a PC keyboard layout, but the Amiga keys still intact and the ScrollLock position masquerading as the Help key. Yes, that was chosen as it was considered useless with Amiga programs, not used. Some of the keys seen to appear too small, as the text was squashed a bit and didn’t all fit. Media Toolbox, of course, resides here. It is a big overhaul compared to its predecessor, HDToolbox, and I will go through the brief here. Two modes are presented, Normal and Expert, and each is as dangerous for miss-setup on a drive. It works pretty much as before, except the partition editing window now shows a list of partitions on the right. Changing details requires another window opened, a little awkward say, if you want to change buffers allocated. Expert options allow a decent number of parameters changed, relating to the internal DOS volume mounted, so will be of no use to the everyday user. Also for the expert are a number of SCSI tools at hand, in abundance, covering mode pages, reading drive temperature, sector defects, determining drive read and write speeds and low level formatting including partition erase. Quite a few in there, although SCSI on the AmigaOne is a bit of non-goer presently, as OS4 apparently has no drivers yet for SCSI cards. I hope they didn’t spend too much time then coding those extra options in. What has been due in AmigaOS for a long time are disk recovery tools, supplied that is. You may remember Commodore supplied DiskDoctor, but removed it because it was thought to have too many problems, possibly causing more damage on a disk than repairing it. I did use it with success as times. Now we have the perhaps confusingly titled PartitionWizard, sounding more like a Windows harddisk setup program than the new AmigaOS disk recovery tool. Perhaps they should have resurrected the DiskDoctor name then, at least we knew what Lazarus meant when a disk was brought back from the dead, or did after a quick read in the bible. It does support a number of standard options including check, repair, salvage, undelete and unformat. And it will also optimise a volume as well, known as defragging on other systems. Lastly it will search for lost partitions and can save them out as a mountlist or a special Media Toolbox format. And can convert from old FFS volumes to the new LongName format. As it has settings for these on bottom of the window, and the functions selected by a nameless icon, it can get confusing at first working out what one is. It is slightly buggy too and can bring down the system if you’re not careful; this isn’t a usual case, it’s just that when you start work on the Workbench volume the system wants to access it five seconds later for some reason and so will complain. Acknowledging the requester asking for the Workbench volume in anyway will end up asking for trouble back, unless you give it back first. Otherwise a set of five second intervals later and the system can freeze, just before Workbench ignores you and becomes unresponsive. This isn’t an isolated incident either as other disk tools working like this have made the system complain in the same way, usually from not properly disabling the volume it is working on, which can always lead to trouble, for any volumes. I’ve seen a conflict like this on early Windows 9x systems where running a defrag operation left alone until the screen blanker (saver) kicks in and somehow needed to be loaded from disk, messing up defrag and it starts again. A program that should be in memory and not on disk, usually with everything on C: being loaded upsets defragging so it started all over again, but the system did not crash. In contrast, PartitionWizard on OS4 will cause system conflicts when working on the system volume, which can lead to complaints and unrecoverable crashes. Now I would expect this from third party software, but with software built into the system, this just isn’t on and I find this to be unacceptable behaviour. I even lost the end of a paragraph in my review because I had to hard reset the machine after a freeze.

A change of tune, PlayCD has been moved from Utilities to here, slightly updated. But looking a bit plain now as it is currently “skinless.” But it also does the job.

Commodities looks very familiar, the new ContextMenus is in there as spoken about in an earlier part of the review, letting by default the right mouse over icons being used to select relevant options. Including the Workbench backdrop and drawer windows also having their own menus. A useful little commodity. Another one is DepthToFront, almost similar in operation to ContextMenus, this allows you to select from a list of screen or window names and bring one to the front, depending if the mouse is over a screen or window depth gadget. What you could almost miss is an interesting update to Blanker. Still supporting that classic line drawing with optional colour cycling and animation, now with a speed control. The major interest is support for DPMS, a modern monitor feature, and this is just one of those little things that make it all the better. You can set stand-by, suspend and active-off delays, and first time I tested this on my ViewSonic 17” it actually worked. Excellent. You can also specify triggers for blanking including keyboard, mouse movements with threshold, and mouse buttons.

A new addition to Tools is a drawer called Dockies. These are add-ons made for AmiDock, which relies on these for certain features, and you could in fact say AmiDock’s world revolves around all different docks living, communicating and interconnecting together. You don’t realise how internally philosophically minded it is, like I just did, as is it siting on the dock of the bay. All the dockies mostly take up an icon or space in a dock, usually but not always acting like a gadget. In brief there is Access, similar to DepthToFront, giving a list tree of screens and windows to select. Anim showing an anim as a selectable icon, instead of a still image. Button being a standard selectable icon. Clock shows an analogue clock, in the dock. Debugger shows debug output of exactly what the dock is it up to, and doing nothing Debugger shows it’s still busy in the background. Lens will be familiar, displaying a magnified or you could say digital zoom of what is appearing under the mouse pointer. Double clicking changes it to a slightly humorous Maximised Lens. Other options include displaying a crosshair, grid, screen co-ordinates, RGB values and setting the magnification. Minimizer is next, said to minimise a dock with a set delay. Online is provided to put you online when you press the “This is planet earth” internet icon. Rainbow colour cycles though the rainbow with a box in the dock with a gradient. Separator simple provides a bar to put between elements. Subdock opens up another dock which when pressed allows you organise and structure your docks. Finally, Test bounces a tiny white square in a bigger black box. Moving the mouse inside the box will cause the square to follow the movements and clicking it will double its size and turn red. What strutting stuff.

Utilitarian actions
Of major importance and changes has to be in Utilities. First up we have a drawer called AmiPDF, containing a self-titled icon. The OS4 fast and friendly PDF viewer, showing every file I could throw at it, working very well. Then there is a GhostScript drawer, containing a script to make assigns. Which relates to AmiGS, inside another drawer, that runs a graphic interface to GhostScript, the command line postscript interpreter. Mostly useful for printing. The Clock has been updated, supposedly with an updated ReAction GUI I am told, the menus looking modern. But the clock in appearance still looks like the one you could see in Workbench 1.3, including that topaz font on the bottom, the only difference I could see was that it fitted inside the updated OS4 window borders. Who knows what else? Again from the 1.3 days, NotePad has made a comeback, this time somehow replacing EditPad. It looks the same, aside from a few more icons on top, so why rename it? For those who remember the original NotePad, this is only a name steal. Although better and able to do slightly more than EditPad, NotePad does not inherit the features of it’s ancestor, which I find unfortunate but expected. If you remember, NotePad was almost a word processor in its own right, allowing you to set fonts and styles within a page, not to forget that page select corner gadget. It was great to test out on your printer, my 9-pin at the time. But alas, that is no more, now reduced to a plain boring text editor. Aren’t things meant to improve and expand features on? At least I thought so, but even with using AmigaOS4 solo you are reminded of a Wintel World. Which brings me to Installer. Although supposed to be a new version it doesn’t support the multi-media sound and graphics support of earlier versions, so running newer scripts will produce errors, in the least they could have made it recognise the keywords and ignore them but no. This is just one of those things relating to the fact that Haage & Partner hogged the source code to the AmigaOS 3.5 and 3.9 updates because they consider the code theirs and they lost out by not doing the work themselves, which they was meant to. In the least, they could have assisted, for they were all keen for AmigaOS on PowerPC for ages then suddenly turned over to the darkside. And involved them selves with AmigaOS x86 emulation, a complete 180 degree turnaround, and made them selves an enemy of Amiga, Inc.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it
With the new AmigaOS4 you can take a hint, if you get one. With certain programs on the Workbench, by hovering the mouse pointer over different gadgets in the interface for a while will bring up a hint. Encapsulated in a black bordered yellow box, these are small descriptions of what a function does, giving you a handy hint.

Despite the Grim Reaper taking control of most software alerts, the Guru can still Meditate in OS4, with those yellow recoverable alerts still appearing. Unlike the normal ones we know these seem to be lazy and instead of pushing the screen down just overlay the alert right on top. It looks the same until you notice the rest of the picture isn’t at it seems, and doesn’t quite give the right effect.

OS4 still retains the Ctrl-Amiga-Amiga reset key combination, though now has to be provided through software rather than being a hardware reset. Thus being a soft-boot of a warm-boot. Doing so will just reset AmigaOS4 itself, just like old times with the Kickstart already being resident, but unlike old times it boots a lot faster. It also looks different, and is a bit worrying at first, because the screen just freezes and there is no way knowing of if it is going to successfully reset. Then a funny pattern appears, the screen goes blank and it reboots. Hopefully they will at least bring back the changing shades of grey in future so we know something is actually going on, and it will look better too. A hard reset or cold boot can also be achieved on the keyboard, this time by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Alt. Almost had a Del on there, but not quite. As long as the kernel is up to it this will perform the trick, otherwise a proper hard reset is required by pressing the reset switch on the case.

A flower that is yet to blossom, the Petunia 68k JIT emulator is yet to be implemented into OS4, talk about a wilt. This does seem funny as when I spoke to the author in email dialogue a couple of years ago he said it was finished, he just had to weed out all the bugs if any were found in his garden, and have it implemented into OS4. Hopefully this flower will be allowed to open up and spread it’s fragrance soon. As one the stability issues with OS4 also revolves around 68k emulation, or perhaps a lack off with some programs falling over. General tweaks in the emulation and an improved and expanded instruction set, especially for FPU as some things are missing, should alleviate the need to run those classic programs. And how well they do run.

The End Commandments
For some final words in my review before I will close it off full of special features I thought I’d take a look at the C: directory. A host of standard commands have been made native, and a few stand out. Some are so new no documentation appears for them yet, but I mention all that stand out. BuildMapTable adds support for a particular unicode table and charset. CharsetConvert will change a file from one charset to another. Clip sets and retrieves data from the system clipboard. CountLines will do so on a text file. Cut is used to extract a particular letter or word from a line. FileSize will report back the total disk space used for files specified, and you can also format the output similar to List. MakeLink has been updated, and can now fully link across devices. MD5Sum can be used to create and check sums to this particular algorithm. In place of Action, we have MooVid, this time appearing as a command. This is the first native port, and brings up a requester like the Workbench version, supporting the AVI, MOV and QT formats. Officially a Move has been added, similar to Copy it will transfer a file across, but then delete the original. ReportTool is provided to output the CPU type and memory, and what devices are on the PCI bus. RequestString can be used to pop up a string requester. SetFontCharSet is used to specify what charset to use on a certain font. SetPatch of course has changed, though it hasn’t much to tell. Uptime is used to find how long the system has been up. There are a few other additions, most notably the “Net” commands, which are part of Roadshow. Used for managing and getting information on networks. A few other commands, also linked to Roadshow are included, but these are mostly used for other networking tasks and some are just straight Unix ports. Finally, the Rexx commands have been shifted into here, amongst a cleaning up of AmigaDOS. Well that mostly covers it, and AmigaOS4 as well. Next part will be the last part of my review, yes that will be it, I will have nothing to write after. Full of special features I am preparing, it will break the mould of the reviews, and also be the final one.

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